THE FREE EXERCISE OF RELIGION

The recent disputes about freedom of religion come from the concerns of some of our citizens regarding not their freedom to worship freely but the claim that their freedom to exercise their religion is being violated.

The first amendment to the Constitution was chosen first because many of the early colonialists came to America to seek religious freedom from religious persecution that they had suffered in Europe. The amendment simply states that, ” Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Recently various states in the nation have sought to legalize discrimination under the claim that their free exercise of religion is not being honored. A current interpretation of what a free exercise of religion is more about an individual being able to discriminate against another person if their religious belief regarding what is a sin is viewed as being violated by someone else. This is not what my idea of a free exercise of religion is.

In the United States man’s laws are superior to religious tenets and beliefs. Our Constitution is our rule book.

Take for example the Mormon practice in the 19th Century of polygamy. In our nation having more than one wife or husband is called bigamy. It is against the law to have more than one wife. Man’s laws were in conflict with a belief that was held and still is held by some Mormons that in order to practice or freely exercise their religion a man should be able to have more than one wife.

Today, some hold that a marriage is to be between a man and a woman only and to do otherwise is a sin. This is the belief held by many people of faith. In their personal lives they are not forced to marry anyone other than a person of the opposite sex. But society’s view of what a marriage is, is evolving and the court, the Supreme Court will decide if homosexuals may marry each other. There is a good possibility that under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution dealing with equal protection that the court will deem gays as being a distinct class of people whose right to marry should be held to be legal. This possible occurrence that such marriages might be found to be legal under the law, the law of man and of the Constitution has caused consternation among some who claim that their religion says that such marriages are a sin in the eyes of God..

If people of faith are so concerned about marriage let’s look at why the institution of marriage is failing. When as many marriages end in divorce as succeed one should really question what one means by family values. Each of us should have the freedom to be equally happy or unhappy in a marriage as another couple. A gay couples marriage should not impact my marriage or your marriage. If we are talking about the pursuit of happiness, let each couple have the right to pursue their own definition of what will make them happy without the fear that some religion will be able to discriminate against them just because they happen to be homosexual.

For years it was illegal to marry a person of a different race, and in some cases this form of discrimination was justified by some sentence in the Bible. A marriage that is bi-racial has no impact on the happiness of another couple nor does it impact a person’s right to freely exercise their religion. One person’s choice does not force you to follow their individual path and decision. For a conservative free choice is often call free will. Government if it is too be free of interfering into an individuals life should stay out of a person’s bedroom and whether they choose to marry or not.

I maintain that each individual member of a church or religion is not having its free exercise of religion violated. If and when marriage equality becomes a legal reality in our nation does not force anyone to marry someone of their own sex. It is a free choice to marry whom you want to. It is not a sin to serve a person in a restaurant or allow a person to take a room in a hotel or motel for the night just because they happen to be a homosexual.

I grew up as a Southern Baptist. I remember my Sunday school teacher telling me that our body is a temple that we should keep pure and not pollute by drinking caffeine. That was her belief and I would hope that because that is a person’s belief that, that would not permit her to deny me the chance to drink a coffee or tea at a restaurant.

Our country is about freedom and liberty, and to think that for one moment that a person’s religious belief would trump and be superior to my freedom to choose to drink a coffee or to dance goes against everything this country stands for. And in furtherance of our freedom and liberty to pursue happiness, no one should be able to force their religious beliefs on others. This type of discrimination is nothing but religious tyranny.

This discussion about whether or not a right to freely exercise their religion makes me think that what they really want to have is to have the court decide that the free exercise of religion is superior to the equal rights of others. We do not live in a theocracy where religious law is above the laws of man. Absolute freedom stops when you hurt someone else.

Religious freedom allows the citizens of this country to go to any church that we want to and worship as we please without any government interference. When we go home to our house or apartment we may exercise our religious beliefs freely. But we are not allowed to enforce our beliefs on others when those beliefs conflict with the Constitution or civil laws or statutory law.

Let us not repeat the mistakes of the past when many of those early settlers became as intolerant of other faiths as the religions of Europe were intolerant of the Puritans and Separatists of a bygone era.

Let freedom ring and stop judging others on what your religion says is a sin. It is only God’s job to judge. Let us be as tolerant of different religions as we should be of our neighbors who do not have a religion. Let us all be able to live freely and live and let others live as they may wish without any fear of discrimination and bigotry.

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